ACT Reading : Identifying and Analyzing Main Ideas in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Understanding The Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.

When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of timber of the wood-cutter, from the tree of the poet. The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says,—he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent grief’s, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at whatever period of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances,—master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.

One of the main points made in the last paragraph is __________.

Possible Answers:

woodlands and forests are perpetually young because of their rejuvenation

by accepting nature we alienate our friends, masters, and acquaintances

restrained nature is superior to independent nature

at times the author feels insignificant and becomes despairing

the majority of mankind are oblivious to wondrous natural events which have become quotidian

Correct answer:

the majority of mankind are oblivious to wondrous natural events which have become quotidian

Explanation:

The paragraph begins, “few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing.” The author is stating that natural things which are a daily occurrence are lost on most as they are either too busy or preoccupied to see it. The other statements all show elements of the third paragraph, however they each, in some way, contradict the points it makes.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Purpose In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from the Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth (1798)

It is the honorable characteristic of Poetry that its materials are to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind. The evidence of this fact is to be sought, not in the writings of Critics, but in those of Poets themselves.

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to enquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title. It is desirable that such readers, for their own sakes, should not suffer the solitary word Poetry, a word of very disputed meaning, to stand in the way of their gratification; but that, while they are perusing this book, they should ask themselves if it contains a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents; and if the answer be favorable to the author's wishes, that they should consent to be pleased in spite of that most dreadful enemy to our pleasures, our own pre-established codes of decision.

Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended, that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.

An accurate taste in poetry, and in all the other arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an acquired talent, which can only be produced by severe thought, and a long continued intercourse with the best models of composition. This is mentioned not with so ridiculous a purpose as to prevent the most inexperienced reader from judging for himself; but merely to temper the rashness of decision, and to suggest that if poetry be a subject on which much time has not been bestowed, the judgement may be erroneous, and that in many cases it necessarily will be so.

Based on the passage, the primary purpose for the poems was __________.

Possible Answers:

to show that literary "defects" can be used to a certain extent in the formation of good poetry

to further the career of the author

to defy critics who have a pompous view of poetry

to be experimental with the way a poem can be formed

to determine if common conversational language was suited to poetry

Correct answer:

to determine if common conversational language was suited to poetry

Explanation:

The answer appears in the second sentence of the third paragraph: “[The poems] were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.” This is stating that they were written with the purpose of using colloquial language to see if it could be used for “poetic pleasure.” The key word is “chiefly” as it tells us the primary purpose, or intent. We cannot say, from the passage, that the other answers were intended.

Example Question #41 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from the Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth (1798)

It is the honorable characteristic of Poetry that its materials are to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind. The evidence of this fact is to be sought, not in the writings of Critics, but in those of Poets themselves.

The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure. Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to enquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title. It is desirable that such readers, for their own sakes, should not suffer the solitary word Poetry, a word of very disputed meaning, to stand in the way of their gratification; but that, while they are perusing this book, they should ask themselves if it contains a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents; and if the answer be favorable to the author's wishes, that they should consent to be pleased in spite of that most dreadful enemy to our pleasures, our own pre-established codes of decision.

Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended, that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.

An accurate taste in poetry, and in all the other arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, is an acquired talent, which can only be produced by severe thought, and a long continued intercourse with the best models of composition. This is mentioned not with so ridiculous a purpose as to prevent the most inexperienced reader from judging for himself; but merely to temper the rashness of decision, and to suggest that if poetry be a subject on which much time has not been bestowed, the judgement may be erroneous, and that in many cases it necessarily will be so.

Which of the following sentences best summarizes the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Those who criticize do not understand the nature of poetry or the specificity with which inspiration is chosen.

Poetry is derived from all things and the work of critics proves this.

The longer the poem, the more materials a poet can use, although only critics can certify this.

The essence of poetry is a secret only poets know, and to ask a critic where the inspiration for a poem comes from is a foolish thing to do.

Inspiration for poetry is found in anything the poet cares to think about and their poetry attests to this being a fact. 

Correct answer:

Inspiration for poetry is found in anything the poet cares to think about and their poetry attests to this being a fact. 

Explanation:

The author is suggesting in the first paragraph that inspiration or “the materials” with which poetry is made are found in everything and that it is better to seek validation of this as a fact within the work of poets instead of in the work of critics. Therefore, only poetry can attest that it can be inspired by anything. The work of critics is misleading, as it could suggest that poetry should only be about certain subjects.

Example Question #11 : Act Reading

Adapted from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (1748)

Everyone will readily allow that there is a considerable difference between the perceptions of the mind, when a man feels the pain of excessive heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth, and when he afterwards recalls to his memory this sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination. These faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses, but they never can entirely reach the force and vivacity of the original sentiment. The utmost we say of them, even when they operate with greatest vigor, is, that they represent their object in so lively a manner that we could almost say we feel or see it. But, except the mind be disordered by disease or madness, they never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity as to render these perceptions altogether undistinguishable. All the colors of poetry, however splendid, can never paint natural objects in such a manner as to make the description be taken for a real landscape. The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.

We may observe a like distinction to run through all the other perceptions of the mind. A man in a fit of anger is actuated in a very different manner from one who only thinks of that emotion. If you tell me that any person is in love I easily understand your meaning, and form a just conception of his situation, but never can mistake that conception for the real disorders and agitations of the passion. When we reflect on our past sentiments and affections, our thought is a faithful mirror and copies its objects truly, but the colors which it employs are faint and dull in comparison of those in which our original perceptions were clothed. It requires no nice discernment or metaphysical head to mark the distinction between them.

Here, therefore, we may divide all the perceptions of the mind into two classes or species, which are distinguished by their different degrees of force and vivacity. The less forcible and lively are commonly denominated "thoughts" or "ideas." The other species want a name in our language, and in most others; I suppose because it was not requisite for any but philosophical purposes to rank them under a general term or appellation. Let us, therefore, use a little freedom, and call them "impressions," employing that word in a sense somewhat different from the usual. By the term "impression," then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the less lively perceptions, of which we are conscious when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned.

What is the main idea of the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Recollections are more distinct than occurrences in reality.

Imagination is a copy of memory.

Thinking about pain eases its effects.

Sensory experiences are stronger than our memories of them. 

Poetry is better at portraying natural objects than paintings.

Correct answer:

Sensory experiences are stronger than our memories of them. 

Explanation:

The main point of the first paragraph is that our memories and imagination can never fully recreate our experiences or the things we feel during our experiences. Pain, for instance, can be recalled but cannot be fully recollected. Therefore, our sensory experiences are more powerful, or stronger, than our recollections of them.

Example Question #11 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

Educators often speak of the “Depth of Knowledge” chart. This is a chart that breaks down all academic exercises into four categories that ascend in difficulty. The first category is “memorization.” The second is the basic processing of memorization, which consists of things like “comparing and contrasting.” Once students have been able to compare and contrast two things about which they’ve memorized facts, they will then be able to do things like “formulate hypotheses” based on the information they have. This is the third step. When students can use information to formulate hypotheses or make inferences, they can then move into the “analyze” or “design” phase, using the information to create new ideas, experiments, or stories. 

One part of the problem is that for many years now, educators have focused solely on the last two steps of this taxonomy because it is thought that this brings about higher level thinking abilities in students. I believe the job market has disproved this theory. The United States is losing its science and technology jobs to overseas markets, people that are more capable of these higher level cognitive skills in realistic areas such as math and science. We might be focusing on projects and statements that start with key words like “analyze” and “predict,” but we are still failing to produce students that can actually do those things in real analytical situations. 

The other part of this problem is the advent of immediate knowledge at our fingertips: the portable internet. Many educators feel that they can now skip the first two categories of academic exercises because the information is so readily available. Students don’t need to memorize or compare and contrast basic information because at any and all times, they can search anything online to access any and all information they don’t have memorized. We just need to teach them what to do with it. 

As new, better, and more accessible technologies become the norm, students are finding less and less motivation to undergo the basic exercises that a human brain must experience to truly expand, grow, and analyze. The problem with not teaching and not requiring students to achieve rote memorization is that when students do “create” and “synthesize,” all they are really doing is building upon emotion and sentiment. Without the basic principles of memorizing necessary facts and figures, a student cannot truly build anything of worth. A home cannot be built without a foundation, and no matter how flashy and beautiful the finished product would be, it would not function without the concrete foundation poured into the mud and clay of the earth. The nitty-gritty must take place before the art can be appreciated. 

Education must turn its eyes ground-ward if it ever wants to build something skyward that will last any sort of time. Requiring students to master basic functions even though they might be less interesting is necessary. Good teachers don’t skip those steps because they might be boring. Good teachers require those steps but find ways to motivate students to put in the effort and to make it fun.

With which statement would the author most likely agree?

Possible Answers:

Memorization is an outdated process that only seems to bog down students' brains with useless, extra information and hinders their learning.

Synthesis is a lower-level thinking exercise, but it is still vitally important.

Long, drawn-out answers based on feeling and assumption are a prime example of how students interpret a problem and should be accepted as higher level thinking.

Memorization should be deleted from today's modern classrom because students have constant access to the information highway in this age.  

Memorization is a very important skill, even in today's world.

Correct answer:

Memorization is a very important skill, even in today's world.

Explanation:

The author makes it very clear that the first two tiers of the Degrees of Knowledge chart are imporant in order to reach the top tiers effectively.  The author believes that memorization, from the first tier of the chart, is too important to skip.

Example Question #11 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

Educators often speak of the “Depth of Knowledge” chart. This is a chart that breaks down all academic exercises into four categories that ascend in difficulty. The first category is “memorization.” The second is the basic processing of memorization, which consists of things like “comparing and contrasting.” Once students have been able to compare and contrast two things about which they’ve memorized facts, they will then be able to do things like “formulate hypotheses” based on the information they have. This is the third step. When students can use information to formulate hypotheses or make inferences, they can then move into the “analyze” or “design” phase, using the information to create new ideas, experiments, or stories. 

One part of the problem is that for many years now, educators have focused solely on the last two steps of this taxonomy because it is thought that this brings about higher level thinking abilities in students. I believe the job market has disproved this theory. The United States is losing its science and technology jobs to overseas markets, people that are more capable of these higher level cognitive skills in realistic areas such as math and science. We might be focusing on projects and statements that start with key words like “analyze” and “predict,” but we are still failing to produce students that can actually do those things in real analytical situations. 

The other part of this problem is the advent of immediate knowledge at our fingertips: the portable internet. Many educators feel that they can now skip the first two categories of academic exercises because the information is so readily available. Students don’t need to memorize or compare and contrast basic information because at any and all times, they can search anything online to access any and all information they don’t have memorized. We just need to teach them what to do with it. 

As new, better, and more accessible technologies become the norm, students are finding less and less motivation to undergo the basic exercises that a human brain must experience to truly expand, grow, and analyze. The problem with not teaching and not requiring students to achieve rote memorization is that when students do “create” and “synthesize,” all they are really doing is building upon emotion and sentiment. Without the basic principles of memorizing necessary facts and figures, a student cannot truly build anything of worth. A home cannot be built without a foundation, and no matter how flashy and beautiful the finished product would be, it would not function without the concrete foundation poured into the mud and clay of the earth. The nitty-gritty must take place before the art can be appreciated. 

Education must turn its eyes ground-ward if it ever wants to build something skyward that will last any sort of time. Requiring students to master basic functions even though they might be less interesting is necessary. Good teachers don’t skip those steps because they might be boring. Good teachers require those steps but find ways to motivate students to put in the effort and to make it fun.

What would the author most likely say the responsibility of the student in education is?

Possible Answers:

To be sure to have the latest in accessible technology so that when the teacher requires the students to look up information, they have access to it.  

To help the teacher come up with fun, relevant activities for the classroom that will help all the students learn since the students and the teacher are likely from 2 separate generations.

To use flashcards, double column notes, and other learning aids to study the material necessary for their education outside of class to be best prepared for any activity or instructional moments the teacher might have prepared for class.

The student has no specific responsibility in the classroom according to the author.

To come to class everyday with some new design or idea relating to the subject matter.

Correct answer:

To use flashcards, double column notes, and other learning aids to study the material necessary for their education outside of class to be best prepared for any activity or instructional moments the teacher might have prepared for class.

Explanation:

The author believes that the teacher is responsible for what is required of students, but also to make it interesting.  The student is only responsible for using what aids he can to memorize the information so the teacher can move them along in cognition to be able to eventually make their own inferences and design new ideas.

Example Question #12 : Humanities

Adapted from Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic by Henri Bergson (1914 ed.)

What does laughter mean? What is the basal element in the laughable? What common ground can we find between the grimace of a merry- andrew, a play upon words, an equivocal situation in a burlesque and a scene of high comedy? What method of distillation will yield us invariably the same essence from which so many different products borrow either their obtrusive odour or their delicate perfume? The greatest of thinkers, from Aristotle downwards, have tackled this little problem, which has a knack of baffling every effort, of slipping away and escaping only to bob up again, a pert challenge flung at philosophic speculation. Our excuse for attacking the problem in our turn must lie in the fact that we shall not aim at imprisoning the comic spirit within a definition. We regard it, above all, as a living thing. However trivial it may be, we shall treat it with the respect due to life. We shall confine ourselves to watching it grow and expand. Passing by imperceptible gradations from one form to another, it will be seen to achieve the strangest metamorphoses. We shall disdain nothing we have seen. Maybe we may gain from this prolonged contact, for the matter of that, something more flexible than an abstract definition,--a practical, intimate acquaintance, such as springs from a long companionship. And maybe we may also find that, unintentionally, we have made an acquaintance that is useful. For the comic spirit has a logic of its own, even in its wildest eccentricities. It has a method in its madness. It dreams, I admit, but it conjures up, in its dreams, visions that are at once accepted and understood by the whole of a social group. Can it then fail to throw light for us on the way that human imagination works, and more particularly social, collective, and popular imagination? Begotten of real life and akin to art, should it not also have something of its own to tell us about art and life?

At the outset we shall put forward three observations which we look upon as fundamental. They have less bearing on the actually comic than on the field within which it must be sought.

 The first point to which attention should be called is that the comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly HUMAN. A landscape may be beautiful, charming and sublime, or insignificant and ugly; it will never be laughable. You may laugh at an animal, but only because you have detected in it some human attitude or expression. You may laugh at a hat, but what you are making fun of, in this case, is not the piece of felt or straw, but the shape that men have given it,--the human caprice whose mould it has assumed. It is strange that so important a fact, and such a simple one too, has not attracted to a greater degree the attention of philosophers. Several have defined man as “an animal which laughs.” They might equally well have defined him as an animal which is laughed at; for if any other animal, or some lifeless object, produces the same effect, it is always because of some resemblance to man, of the stamp he gives it or the use he puts it to.

Here I would point out, as a symptom equally worthy of notice, the ABSENCE OF FEELING which usually accompanies laughter. It seems as though the comic could not produce its disturbing effect unless it fell, so to say, on the surface of a soul that is thoroughly calm and unruffled. Indifference is its natural environment, for laughter has no greater foe than emotion. I do not mean that we could not laugh at a person who inspires us with pity, for instance, or even with affection, but in such a case we must, for the moment, put our affection out of court and impose silence upon our pity. In a society composed of pure intelligences there would probably be no more tears, though perhaps there would still be laughter; whereas highly emotional souls, in tune and unison with life, in whom every event would be sentimentally prolonged and re-echoed, would neither know nor understand laughter. Try, for a moment, to become interested in everything that is being said and done; act, in imagination, with those who act, and feel with those who feel; in a word, give your sympathy its widest expansion: as though at the touch of a fairy wand you will see the flimsiest of objects assume importance, and a gloomy hue spread over everything. Now step aside, look upon life as a disinterested spectator: many a drama will turn into a comedy. It is enough for us to stop our ears to the sound of music, in a room where dancing is going on, for the dancers at once to appear ridiculous. How many human actions would stand a similar test? Should we not see many of them suddenly pass from grave to gay, on isolating them from the accompanying music of sentiment? To produce the whole of its effect, then, the comic demands something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart. Its appeal is to intelligence, pure and simple.

Which of the following is the most accurate summary of the author's claim in the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

There is a human element to every landscape

Only landscapes can be laughable

All humans are funny

Anything that is considered laughable must have a human element

Correct answer:

Anything that is considered laughable must have a human element

Explanation:

In the third paragraph, the author discusses how he believes that the "comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly HUMAN." This can be summarized as anything that is 'comic' must have a human element, which corresponds to the correct answer choice.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Main Idea, Theme, And Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Mr. Coleridge" from The Spirit of the Age by William Hazlitt (1825)

The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers, and the reason is, that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and dote on past achievements. The accumulation of knowledge has been so great that we are lost in wonder at the height it has reached, instead of attempting to climb or add to it, while the variety of objects distracts and dazzles the looker-on. What niche remains unoccupied? What path untried? What is the use of doing anything, unless we could do better than all those who have gone before us? What hope is there of this? We are like those who have been to see some noble monument of art, who are content to admire without thinking of rivaling it; or like guests after a feast, who praise the hospitality of the donor "and thank the bounteous Pan"—perhaps carrying away some trifling fragments; or like the spectators of a mighty battle, who still hear its sound afar off, and the clashing of armor and the neighing of the war-horse and the shout of victory is in their ears, like the rushing of innumerable waters!

Mr. Coleridge has "a mind reflecting ages past”; his voice is like the echo of the congregated roar of the "dark rearward and abyss" of thought. He who has seen a mouldering tower by the side of a crystal lake, hid by the mist, but glittering in the wave below, may conceive the dim, gleaming, uncertain intelligence of his eye; he who has marked the evening clouds up rolled (a world of vapors), has seen the picture of his mind: unearthly, unsubstantial, with gorgeous tints and ever-varying forms.

Our author's mind is (as he himself might express it) tangential. There is no subject on which he has not touched, none on which he has rested. With an understanding fertile, subtle, expansive, "quick, forgetive, apprehensive," beyond all living precedent, few traces of it will perhaps remain. He lends himself to all impressions alike; he gives up his mind and liberty of thought to none. He is a general lover of art and science, and wedded to no one in particular. He pursues knowledge as a mistress, with outstretched hands and winged speed; but as he is about to embrace her, his Daphne turns—alas! not to a laurel! Hardly a speculation has been left on record from the earliest time, but it is loosely folded up in Mr. Coleridge's memory, like a rich, but somewhat tattered piece of tapestry; we might add (with more seeming than real extravagance), that scarce a thought can pass through the mind of man, but its sound has at some time or other passed over his head with rustling pinions. On whatever question or author you speak, he is prepared to take up the theme with advantage—from Peter Abelard down to Thomas Moore, from the subtlest metaphysics to the politics of the Courier. There is no man of genius, in whose praise he descants, but the critic seems to stand above the author, and "what in him is weak, to strengthen, what is low, to raise and support”; nor is there any work of genius that does not come out of his hands like an illuminated missal, sparkling even in its defects. If Mr. Coleridge had not been the most impressive talker of his age, he would probably have been the finest writer; but he lays down his pen to make sure of an auditor, and mortgages the admiration of posterity for the stare of an idler. If he had not been a poet, he would have been a powerful logician; if he had not dipped his wing in the Unitarian controversy, he might have soared to the very summit of fancy. But in writing verse, he is trying to subject the Muse to transcendental theories; in his abstract reasoning, he misses his way by strewing it with flowers. All that he has done of moment, he had done twenty years ago; since then, he may be said to have lived on the sound of his own voice. Mr. Coleridge is too rich in intellectual wealth to need to task himself to any drudgery; he has only to draw the sliders of his imagination, and a thousand subjects expand before him, startling him with their brilliancy, or losing themselves in endless obscurity.

What is the main idea of the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

People are more likely to be grateful to the mythical rather than to the charitable.

Artists and scientists are becoming lazy and are lacking motivation.

People act like they are witnessing a great battle.

People, in the writer's time, are less likely to act and more likely to reminisce. 

The answers to contentious questions in art and science are being sought in past studies.

Correct answer:

People, in the writer's time, are less likely to act and more likely to reminisce. 

Explanation:

The paragraph is leading into the passage, and its argument is that people are so preoccupied with the wonders of past achievements that they are not pushed to progress further, but instead are caught up with talking about the past. This becomes a central argument of the passage.

Example Question #11 : Understanding Organization And Argument In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Mr. Wordsworth" in The Spirit of the Age: or Contemporary Portraits by William Hazlitt (1825)

Mr. Wordsworth’s genius is a pure emanation of the Spirit of the Age. Had he lived in any other period of the world, he would never have been heard of. As it is, he has some difficulty to contend with the lethargy of his intellect, and the meanness of his subject. With him “lowliness is young ambition’s ladder;” but he finds it a toil to climb in this way the steep of Fame. His homely Muse can hardly raise her wing from the ground, nor spread her hidden glories to the sun. He has “no figures nor no fantasies, which busy passion draws in the brains of men:” neither the gorgeous machinery of mythological lore, nor the splendid colors of poetic diction. His style is vernacular: he delivers household truths. He sees nothing loftier than human hopes; nothing deeper than the human heart. This he probes, this he tampers with, this he poises, with all its incalculable weight of thought and feeling, in his hands, and at the same time calms the throbbing pulses of his own heart, by keeping his eye ever fixed on the face of nature. If he can make the life-blood flow from the wounded breast, this is the living coloring with which he paints his verse: if he can assuage the pain or close up the wound with the balm of solitary musing, or the healing power of plants and herbs and “skyey influences,” this is the sole triumph of his art. He takes the simplest elements of nature and of the human mind, the mere abstract conditions inseparable from our being, and tries to compound a new system of poetry from them; and has perhaps succeeded as well as anyone could. “Nihil humani a me alienum puto” (I consider nothing that is human alien to me)—is the motto of his works. He thinks nothing low or indifferent of which this can be affirmed: everything that professes to be more than this, that is not an absolute essence of truth and feeling, he holds to be vitiated, false, and spurious. In a word, his poetry is founded on setting up an opposition (and pushing it to the utmost length) between the natural and the artificial: between the spirit of humanity, and the spirit of fashion and of the world!

It is one of the innovations of the time. It partakes of, and is carried along with, the revolutionary movement of our age: the political changes of the day were the model on which he formed and conducted his poetical experiments. His Muse (it cannot be denied, and without this we cannot explain its character at all) is a leveling one. It proceeds on a principle of equality, and strives to reduce all things to the same standard. It is distinguished by a proud humility. It relies upon its own resources, and disdains external show and relief. It takes the commonest events and objects, as a test to prove that nature is always interesting from its inherent truth and beauty, without any of the ornaments of dress or pomp of circumstances to set it off. Hence the unaccountable mixture of seeming simplicity and real abstruseness in the Lyrical Ballads. Fools have laughed at, and wise men scarcely understand, them. He takes a subject or a story merely as pegs or loops to hang thought and feeling on; the incidents are trifling, in proportion to his contempt for imposing appearances; the reflections are profound, according to the gravity and aspiring pretensions of his mind.

Based on the passage, what does Wordsworth found his poetry on?

Possible Answers:

A juxtaposition between the natural and the artificial

Spontaneous outbursts of thought and feeling

The misery of mankind

Parallels between the spiritual and fashionable

The differences between plants and humans

Correct answer:

A juxtaposition between the natural and the artificial

Explanation:

In the last three lines of the first paragraph, the author says that “In a word, his poetry is founded on setting up an opposition (and pushing it to the utmost length) between the natural and the artificial.” Wordsworth draws parallels in his poetry by juxtaposing the natural with the artificial. The critic is claiming that these “oppositions” are ultimately the foundation for his poetry.

Example Question #11 : Humanities

Adapted from "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" by Mark Twain (1895)

Cooper's gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the Indians and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.

I am sorry that there is not room to put in a few dozen instances of the delicate art of the forest, as practiced by Natty Bumppo and some of the other Cooperian experts. Perhaps we may venture two or three samples. Cooper was a sailor—a naval officer; yet he gravely tells us how a vessel, driving toward a lee shore in a gale, is steered for a particular spot by her skipper because he knows of an undertow there which will hold her back against the gale and save her. For just pure woodcraft, or sailorcraft, or whatever it is, isn't that neat? For several years, Cooper was daily in the society of artillery, and he ought to have noticed that when a cannon-ball strikes the ground it either buries itself or skips a hundred feet or so; skips again a hundred feet or so—and so on, till finally it gets tired and rolls. Now in one place he loses some "females"—as he always calls women—in the edge of a wood near a plain at night in a fog, on purpose to give Bumppo a chance to show off the delicate art of the forest before the reader. These mislaid people are hunting for a fort. They hear a cannon-blast, and a cannon-ball presently comes rolling into the wood and stops at their feet. To the females this suggests nothing. The case is very different with the admirable Bumppo. I wish I may never know peace again if he doesn't strike out promptly and follow the track of that cannon-ball across the plain in the dense fog and find the fort. Isn't it a daisy? If Cooper had any real knowledge of Nature's ways of doing things, he had a most delicate art in concealing the fact. For instance: one of his acute Indian experts, Chingachgook (pronounced Chicago, I think), has lost the trail of a person he is tracking through the forest. Apparently that trail is hopelessly lost. Neither you nor I could ever have guessed the way to find it. It was very different with Chicago. Chicago was not stumped for long. He turned a running stream out of its course, and there, in the slush in its old bed, were that person's moccasin tracks. The current did not wash them away, as it would have done in all other like cases—no, even the eternal laws of Nature have to vacate when Cooper wants to put up a delicate job of woodcraft on the reader.

Twain's main purpose in this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

to keep other writers from committing the same literary offenses that Cooper has

show how often Cooper uses stock devices and bad physics in his stories

keep anyone from reading a Cooper novel ever again

to make fun of bad writing in general

Correct answer:

show how often Cooper uses stock devices and bad physics in his stories

Explanation:

Twain's purpose in this passage is to catalog Cooper's use of stock devices and poor physics in his stories.

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